CEBU CITY -- With Manila-based teams getting bigger and stronger following the arrival of foreign players, varsity squads from the Cebu Schools Athletic Association (Cesafi) have followed suit and bolstered their lineups with 'imports' in anticipation of a major showdown in the Philippine Collegiate Champions League later in the year.
Two of Cebu’s most decorated basketball programs have started to follow the trend started by the San Beda Red Lions with Sam Ekwe in 2006, with nine-time Cesafi champions University of the Visayas recently recruiting a 6-foot-8 beanpole from Cameroon named Steve Cedric Akomo.
The move was primarily meant to counter rival Southwestern University’s acquisition of two Cameroonians in hulking 6-foot-7 center Justin Aboude and the versatile 6-foot-7 swingman, Ben Mbala.
Of the two, Mbala is the one attracting the most hype for last year’s losing Cesafi finalists, having been the MVP of the Basketball Without Borders Africa Camp last year.
According to UV head coach Felix “Donbel” Belano, the move to sign Akomo was meant to fill their need for an imposing figure in the middle, not only against SWU but more importantly in the PCCL where they will face off against Manila-based teams.
Since Ekwe’s triumphant campaign with San Beda, foreign players have become fixtures in most NCAA and UAAP teams. This year alone, Far Eastern University is parading American Anthony Hargrove while National University has Emmanuel Mbe to man the middle in the UAAP.
Four-time champion Ateneo also has an imposing presence in the paint with former UV star and two-time Cesafi MVP Greg Slaughter.
“Kailangan talaga naming ng malaki para ma-control ang rebounds and at the same time, maka-intimidate din sa depensa,” said Belano, best remembered for his historic quadruple-double in the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association.
Belano added that he saw for himself their weakness in the middle when UV took on NCAA champion San Beda and its dominant center, Ola Adeogun, in the Sinulog Cup at the Cebu Coliseum earlier this year.
“We would be able to hang around for a bit but kukulangin pa rin in the end, all because we don’t have the same caliber of big men as SWU, and of course, the NCAA and UAAP teams,” he added.
On Thursday, the eligibility of UV and SWU’s foreign players came under question during the screening of Cesafi players after it was learned that they only hold tourist visas – and not student visas.
However, school officials explained that the players are not yet eligible to acquire student visas since they are still minors.
The Cesafi opens on July 29 at the Cebu Coliseum. However, the much-anticipated match-up between UV and SWU, and their vaunted imports, won’t happen until August 26.